From the Vault: Civil War Shenanigans

We can all agree that war is hell. Union soldiers finding themselves in enemy territory far from home and hearth were faced with the blast of artillery shells, unspeakable carnage on the battlefield, and primitive living conditions. In order to cope with the madness, soldiers made use of any free time in ways not always in keeping with their fine Christian upbringing.

The following excerpts are from a ledger used at a Union prison in Alexandria, Virginia, that documents the transgressions of errant Union soldiers during an active few weeks between April 13, 1864, to May 16, 1864. Each entry lists the prisoner’s name, regiment, company, charges, charging official, and remarks.

Although the ledger isn’t attributed to a specific prison, it is most likely from what was known as the Franklin and Armfield Office, which until 1861 was known as the epicenter of the domestic slave trade. Notations across the top of pages in the ledger denoting prisoners held in the “Slave Pen” further enforce the likelihood of its origin.

Alexandria slave pen, c. 1861. From www.virginiamemory.com/shaping courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Alexandria slave pen, c. 1861. From http://www.virginiamemory.com/shaping courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Charges noted in the ledger ranged from the popular desertion, drunkenness, staggering, and rioting, along with less frequently perpetrated crimes such as insolence and forging a leave pass. Fewer still were instances in which visits to the local cathouse became unruly enough to warrant the attention of an arresting officer, as seen in this entry.

11744834_10152885575991604_267950825_o

No fewer than five soldiers were accused of rowdiness in a house of ill fame on this day.

Neither were local madams immune to the law, as evidenced by two women, both named Mary Griffith, who were locked up not only for running a brothel, but for doing it on the Sabbath.

11747534_10152885574076604_2005169857_o

The charges for the two Marys: "Disorderly House & keeping open on Sunday."

The charges for the two Marys: “Disorderly House & keeping open on Sunday.”

Several pages of the ledger are smeared with mud and debris as though the pages themselves are speaking to the violence they’ve seen. One can imagine a newly-arrested and angry soldier tearing it from the recording officer’s hands and flinging it to the ground.

11752668_10152885015231604_332825884_o

11748287_10152885011826604_98951875_o

War is hell, indeed.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian

Published in: on July 17, 2015 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

New Exhibit in Local History!

We are launching a new exhibit in the Local History and Genealogy Division this week. Entitled “Vietnam Veterans: Serving Then and Now,” the exhibit focuses on the experiences and contributions of local veterans from the Vietnam War era. It is sponsored in partnership with the Central Library’s Science & History Division and the local Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 20.

We will be hosting a reception on Saturday, June 6, at 1pm in the Local History Main Hall (2nd floor, Rundel Memorial Building), followed by a lecture, “Telling the Stories of Rochester’s Vietnam-era Veterans,” in the Rundel Auditorium (3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building) at 2pm. For more information, please see the flyer below. Hope to see you there!

VietnamVeterans_Exhibit_Page_2

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

New scanning equipment touted

Local genealogy and history blogger Dick Halsey has been spending quite a bit of time in the Local History & Genealogy Division lately making use of our new scanning equipment. He wrote about his experience in his blog this week: http://rochistory.com/blog/?p=4353.

Anyone can use the equipment for free. Be sure to check it out.

Published in: on May 18, 2015 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  

April 28 – The city of Rochester is born | On this day in Rochester history… | Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

April 28 – The city of Rochester is born | On this day in Rochester history… | Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

It’s Earth Week!

April 22, 2015, marked the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. A holiday first introduced by US Senator Gaylord Nelson and fellow environmentalists in 1970, Earth Day is now a world-wide celebration that seeks to raise awareness of environmental problems and human beings’ role in creating—and hopefully solving—them. Rochesterians use Earth Day, and usually the week—or even month—around it, as a time to reflect on their environmental impact, but also to work towards meaningful change in human-environment interactions. Taking a “think globally, act locally” approach, we plant flowers and trees, pick up litter, recycle, conserve water and electricity, hold environmental fairs, attend lectures, discuss films, commune with nature, and more, all in the spirit of conservation and beautification of our natural surroundings.

Mayor Robert Duffy addresses young volunteers wearing Clean Sweep shirts during Earth Day activities at the Genesee Valley Park pavilion, April 2007. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Mayor Robert Duffy addresses young volunteers wearing Clean Sweep shirts during Earth Day activities at the Genesee Valley Park pavilion, April 2007. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group portrait of volunteers involved in a scavenger hunt and Earth Day clean up, April 2008. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group portrait of volunteers involved in an Earth Day clean up, April 2008. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Had I written this post on Wednesday, as I had originally intended, I would have been able to wish you a Happy Earth Day. Alas, before I knew it, Wednesday became Thursday became Friday, and the post remained unwritten. Fortunately for me, today happens to be another worthy, environmentally related holiday: Arbor Day! Better still for me, a historian who appreciates such things, Arbor Day predates Earth Day by nearly a century. And so it works out that I am able to wish you a very timely, “Happy Arbor Day,” and tell you a little about the history of this holiday (as I am wont to do).

Arbor Day was first celebrated in the United States in Nebraska in 1872. The goal was to plant trees to “spruce up” the Great Plains, so to speak. The idea for a holiday devoted to trees originated with newspaperman, nature enthusiast, and upstate New York native Julius Sterling Morton. Morton and his fellow pioneers realized that trees were important for providing fuel, building materials, paper (and, thus, newspapers!), erosion control, shelter from the sun and wind, animal habitats, and more. Not to mention trees are pretty to look at. As Morton himself proclaimed, “The cultivation of flowers and trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful and the ennobling in man, and for one, I wish to see this culture become universal.” Beyond the pragmatic and aesthetic value of this natural resource, Morton recognized the responsibility humans have as stewards of their planet: “Each generation takes the earth as trustees. We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consume.”[1]

Morton used his newspaper to spread the word about the value of trees and environmental stewardship and encouraged his readers to set aside a specific day to plant trees. In 1872, Nebraska’s Board of Agriculture backed his idea and declared April 10 the first official Arbor Day. Morton and his fellow Nebraskans reportedly planted over a million trees that year. Other states soon followed suit, including New York, with its 1888 “Act to Encourage Arboriculture.”

Since that time, Rochesterians have celebrated Arbor Day with the expected tree-planting ceremonies, some accompanied by more pomp and circumstance than others.

A group portrait of the 108th Infantry Regiment of New York, taken at Seneca Park during an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

A group portrait of the 108th Infantry Regiment of New York, taken at Seneca Park during an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony, ca 1900. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

A group of children raise their hands in the air as part of an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group of children raise their hands in the air as part of an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A tree is planted during an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A tree is planted during an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Washington Grammar School No. 26, on Clifford, was especially dedicated to celebrating the holiday in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, making Arbor Day the date of their annual picnic in Seneca Park. Our city’s enthusiasm for tree planting earned it recognition as a “Tree City USA” by the National Arbor Day Foundation in 1981, and every year since then.

Sometimes celebrated on April 22 (Morton’s birthday), Arbor Day has fallen anywhere from January to May, varying by year and location. When Earth Day appropriated the April 22 date in 1970, National Arbor Day became the last Friday in April (although different states still celebrate it at different times, depending on planting conditions). And so here we are, celebrating Arbor Day in Rochester on this last Friday in April 2015. Now go plant a tree! (By the way, our state tree is the Sugar Maple, for those of you who were wondering…)

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

[1] “What is Arbor Day?” Arbor Day Foundation newsletter, https://www.arborday.org/celebrate/documents/learn-more.pdf, accessed April 24, 2015.

Bells Across the Land – A Nation Remembers Appomattox

Tomorrow, April 9, 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, represented by the historic meeting between Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Here in Rochester, the Friends of Mount Hope will mark the anniversary by ringing the Mount Hope Cemetery north gatehouse bell at 3:15 p.m., joining bells in churches, temples, schools, city halls, public buildings, historic sites, and others across the land taking part in a National Park Service commemoration. A brief program will follow, featuring re-enactor representatives from both sides of the conflict, and period anthems played on fife and drum. It should be a fun and informative event!

CIVIL WAR COMMEMORATION EVENT
Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 3:00 p.m.
Mount Hope Cemetery North Gatehouse
791 Mount Hope Avenue, opposite Robinson Drive

Submitted by Sue O’Neill, Azalea Neighborhood Association & Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery

Published in: on April 8, 2015 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Family Detectives Club announces its April/May schedule

Join us for the last few sessions before summer! Remember: the library is closed on Sundays beginning May 10. Get your genealogy fix while you can!

FamDetClub_Apr_May_2015_HS

Published in: on March 24, 2015 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Local History announces its March 2015 Family Detectives Club Schedule

FamDetClub_MAR_2015_HSIf you haven’t visited the Local History & Genealogy Division in awhile, March will be a great time to check it out. The Family Detectives Club has several exciting programs planned that will introduce participants to the Division’s new floor plan (see previous posts and watch for more news in future days and weeks). You’ll also learn about some new databases you can use here for free, including Historic Map Works and NYS Sanborn fire insurance maps.

Please join us! New members are always welcome. And remember, parking is free in the Court Street garage on Sundays.

Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

George A. Custer Letters on Rochester Voices

A few years ago, the Local History and Genealogy Division received a generous grant from the Gleason Foundation to create an interactive, mobile-friendly website that engages K-12 students, as well as the general public, in the study of local, state, national, and even global history by allowing users to explore the letters, diaries, interviews, and other personal accounts of Rochesterians who experienced the past first-hand. The result is Rochester Voices, a website that offers direct digital access to the unique historical materials from the Local History and Genealogy Division’s special collections, and those of our partners. Visit the site here and discover these stories of the past for yourself.

Portrait (Main)

The most recent addition to Rochester Voices is the George A. Custer collection, prepared for online publication by one of our impressively talented student interns, Shane Swann (SUNY Brockport). Although the famous Civil War general was not actually from Rochester, he had family in the area. This collection includes Custer’s correspondence with his beloved cousin, Augusta Frary, who lived in Canandaigua and Albion, New York.

As a historical figure, Custer is perhaps best known for his role as a Civil War general and for his “Last Stand” at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, when he led his regiment against a substantially larger Native American force, resulting in a severe defeat for the U.S. Army, as well as his own death. In the five letters that constitute the Custer collection, we get a glimpse of the man behind the legend, from his youthful antics as a subpar student at West Point to his zeal for the excitement and adventure of war to his familial tenderness towards his cousin, wife, and children.

In typical Rochester Voices fashion, the Custer collection “brings history to life” by capturing Custer’s experiences in his own words. Visit Rochester Voices and explore Custer’s stories, as well as the stories of other historical figures who were once connected to the Rochester area.

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Local History CLOSED Thursday & Friday, February 19-20

under constructionThe Local History & Genealogy Division will be closed for renovations on Thursday, February 19, and Friday, February 20. The division will reopen to the public at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 21.

The renovations will accommodate the new Walter F. Becker Digital History Center, giving patrons access to state-of-the-art scanning equipment and other digital technologies. The new center will include seven ScanPro digital microfilm/microfiche readers, as well as a variety of photo and document scanners, all of which will be available for use for free. In addition, the new center will include an audiovisual collaboration station where patrons can work together on projects or listen to or view audio or video materials.

The division’s layout will be modified to provide a single point of service for patrons, as the formerly separate reference and vital records desks will be combined at a central location. In addition, patrons will find comfortable and roomier new computer desks and chairs.

Equipment installation will take place in phases over the next few weeks. Patrons will continue to have access to databases and microfilm readers throughout this process.

Thank you for your patience! We hope the final product will make any inconvenience worthwhile.

— Christine L. Ridarsky, Historical Services Consultant

Published in: on February 16, 2015 at 1:18 pm  Comments (2)  
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,507 other followers